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Star Trek: Voyager – Pathfinder (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager has always had an awkward relationship with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was always the rebellious middle-child, prone to make bold and defiant gestures like blowing up a surrogate of the Enterprise in The Jem’Hadar, bringing Jonathan Frakes back to play Riker’s evil transporter duplicate in Defiant, and have former Enterprise crew member Chief Miles Edward O’Brien praise Sisko as the best captain in the fleet in The Adversary. It was a television series that was dedicated to defining its own unique identity, and at least some of that identity was defined in opposition to its direct predecessor.

Taking his Neelix.

In contrast, Voyager always felt a little more desperate, a little too eager to assert its connection to The Next Generation and to insist upon itself as a spiritual successor to that beloved (and incredibly successful) series. Despite the fact that Voyager was set primarily in the Delta Quadrant, the series never missed an opportunity to crossover with The Next Generation. Barclay appeared as a hologram in Projections, Riker was summoned across the universe in Death Wish, LaForge was rendered a captain in the future presented in Timeless.

This is to say nothing of the minor crossovers taken at every available opportunity; the use of Q and the Borg Queen among the relatively small number of recurring guest stars, the original plan to build 11:59 around Guinan, the decision to produce the dire False Profits as a sequel to the dire The Price. Repeatedly over the show’s run, Voyager feels very much like a young child digging through its elder sibling’s wardrobe for something that might possible be claimed as a hand-me-down. It is depressing, particularly considering the raw potential that was baked into the premise of Voyager.

Course correction.

Pathfinder is perhaps the apex of this approach. It is effectively a stealth episode of The Next Generation, packaged and released under the Voyager brand. The primary plot of Pathfinder focuses on two characters from The Next Generation sitting around and talking about how great Voyager is, with one of those characters even escaping into a holographic fantasy of life on board the ship to help him think. In many ways, Pathfinder could be seen to prefigure These Are the Voyages…, the catastrophic finale to Star Trek: Enterprise that borrowed the same template and somehow pushed it even further.

There is a smell of desperation about Pathfinder. Whatever the plot of the episode might suggest, Voyager feels more lost than ever.

The Last Generation.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – These Are The Voyages… (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

1994 was peak Star Trek.

Of course, the particulars are open to debate. There are credible arguments that could be made for the following year, when Paramount considered broadcasting Caretaker to be just about the only statement that UPN needed to make on it opening night. There are even plausible arguments that could be made about the year after that, when the franchise officially celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a beloved movie, two anniversary episodes and a whole host of affection press coverage.

"So, I've been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good."

“So, I’ve been Netflixing Enterprise, and the final two seasons are REALLY good.”

Nevertheless, it all seems to come down to 1994. That was the year that Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end. It was the only season of Star Trek overseen by Rick Berman to by nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Prime-Time Emmy Awards. It was the point at which the original Star Trek cast were retired, with William Shatner officially passing the torch to Patrick Stewart before a bridge fell on him in Star Trek: Generations. At the same time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in its second season. Star Trek: Voyager was ready to launch.

More importantly, that season of television represented the turning point for the franchise’s ratings. While The Next Generation actually experienced its highest viewing figures during its fourth and fifth seasons, the end of The Next Generation with its seventh season signaled a gradual erosion of the franchise’s viewing base. There are lots of reasons for this that have nothing to do with quality and more to do with the realities of network television, but this simple fact helps to solidify the feeling that the final season of The Next Generation was something of a golden age.

An Enterprising couple.

An Enterprising couple.

It could legitimately be argued that the Berman era was haunted by the spectre of 1994 for the longest of times. Ironically enough for a show set on a space station, Deep Space Nine managed to chart its own course only to end up isolated from the franchise around it. While Deep Space Nine would end up an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, the seven seasons of Voyager and the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise would find the franchise trapped within a phantom version of 1994 that seemed to last forever.

Enterprise finally escaped the long cold shadow of The Next Generation with the broadcast of The Expanse at the end of its second season. The final two seasons of Enterprise would find the show experimenting and innovating with new narrative forms and new approaches to the franchise. The third season of Enterprise finally allowed Brannon Braga to follow through on his original pitch for Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. The fourth season largely eschewed episodic plotting for multi-episode arcs excavating the canon.

"C'mon, you didn't think they'd let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?"

“C’mon, you didn’t think they’d let Enterprise finish without a holodeck episode, did you?”

Perhaps that is why These Are the Voyages… is so shocking, beyond the myriad of minor complaints. These Are the Voyages… takes the franchise right back to 1994 as if the evolutionary leaps of the prior two seasons never took place. The episode invites the audience to wonder whether it might all be a dream, a fantasy playing out on the holodeck to help Riker pass the time. After all, the episode does not close in the twenty-second century with the decommissioning of Enterprise; the episode closes with Riker and Troi right back in 1994.

That is the true heartbreaking tragedy of These Are the Voyages… No matter how far the Berman era might come, it can never escape 1994.

Warp speed ahead...

Warp speed ahead…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (DC Comics, 1989) #47-50 – The Worst of Both Worlds (Review)

This November and December, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

The Worst of Both Worlds, as the name implies, is an excuse to revisit one of the pivotal moments of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Go on, guess which one!) Unfortunately, it’s not quite up to the task – a failing down to both to the scripts from Michael Jan Friedman and the artwork from Peter Krause. It winds up feeling like an interesting idea, given a rather lackluster execution, working best as a study of the impact that the show’s third season cliffhanger had on the franchise.

A time warp...

A time warp…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ménage à Troi (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

So, here we are again. We almost made it. Two episodes away from the series finalé and… boom! Lwaxana Troi episode. Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

Still, this is the point where we reflect on how far the show has come in a season. Ménage à Troi is hardly the best episode of the season, but then Lwaxana episodes rarely are. We need to compare like with like, to get a sense of how far the show has come along. It’s not enough to say that Star Trek: The Next Generation is a better show when it made Ménage à Troi than it was when it made Manhunt or Haven, but it’s close.

Ménage à Troi is a problematic episode, much like Manhunt and Haven are both problematic episodes. There’s a weird awkward dated quality to the show’s attempts to do relationship humour – a vaguely unsettling sexist undertone about how confident older women are inherently hilarious and its great fun to see them involved in embarrassing relationships. Unfortunately, Ménage à Troi continues that trend.

Two Ferengi walk into a bar...

Two Ferengi walk into a bar…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Matter of Perspective (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

A Matter of Perspective is a bit of a disappointment. However, it’s a disappointment for the same reason that The High Ground is a disappointment. The third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is at least trying new things, and playing with big ideas for a syndicated television science-fiction show in the late eighties and early nineties. There is some charm to the episode’s basic premise (Rashomon in space… with the holodeck!”), but the script never quite manages to deliver on that wonderful set up.

Instead, we end up with a show that lacks the nuance to follow through on its central themes, and a mystery that confuses techno-babble for a satisfying solution.

Painting a pretty picture...

Painting a pretty picture…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Price (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, the streak had to end some time. After seven episodes ranging from “flawed but still interesting” to “pretty great”, the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation hits a bit of a snag. The Price is the weakest episode of the show’s third season to this point, and confirmation that the writers really have no idea how to write for Deanna Troi. It’s still the best episode to focus on the ship’s half-Betazoid counsellor, but being better than Haven or The Child is hardly an accomplishment for the ages.

All that glitters...

All that glitters…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Bonding (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Bonding is a pretty pivotal and momentous episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation. On one hand, it’s the first episode overseen by incoming executive producer Michael Piller. Piller would go on to become one of the most influential producers to work on Star Trek. Aside from steering The Next Generation towards success, he also created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, as well as overseeing the production of the first three Next Generation films.

However, The Bonding is also the first script written by Ronald D. Moore. Obviously, the version that made it to screen had been revised and tweaked by Melinda Snodgrass and Michael Piller, but The Bonding still feels like a Moore script. Ronald D. Moore would go on to be one of the more influential writers on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. He also worked (very) briefly on Voyager, before departing and heading up his own reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

So The Bonding is the beginning of something new, an original direction for The Next Generation. Featuring a powerful and wonderful opening half, The Bonding suffers a bit from falling into conventional Star Trek tropes towards the end of the episode. However, it’s still a clever and powerful piece of television.

A bit of shadow...

A bit of shadowplay…

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